October 19, 2007

Finding balance first step to success

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. This week he heads to the classic intersectional rivalry between Southern California and Notre Dame.
Previous mailbags
Oct. 12: Hard to figure
Oct. 5: Looking for love
Sept. 28: McFadden continues to shine
Sept. 21: Sometimes the system works

Balance is a valuable asset in football.

Coaches covet it, running backs need it and bowl appearances sometimes hang in it.

For years, coaches have stressed the importance of being balanced offensively to keep opponents guessing and unsure.

Even disappointed fans need it. Why?

The answer follows in this week's mailbag.

Balancing act

What teams would you put in the top five of the most effective, balanced offenses in the nation.

Scott in Kansas City

The easy way to answer that would be to check the national statistics and check what five teams rank highest in passing offense and rushing offense, but that would not take into account caliber of competition.

Therefore, my opinion is based on highly productive quarterbacks and running backs. No doubt, there will be differing opinions, but here's my list:

1. Kentucky: Quarterback Andre' Woodson is a possible Heisman recipient and tailback Rafael Little has rushed for more than 100 yards in five games. Last week, when Little was injured and unavailable, the Wildcats still rushed for more than 100 yards against the powerful LSU defense.

2. Oregon: The Ducks rushed for more than 300 yards in each of their first three games. Then they passed for more than 300 in their next three, so pick your poison. Like Woodson, Oregon quarterback Dennis Dixon is a Heisman contender. The Ducks also have two tailbacks, Jonathan Stewart and Jeremiah Johnson, averaging more than 6 yards per carry. But Johnson is injured and out for the season.

3. Oklahoma: Sam Bradford has passed for 20 touchdowns, and tailbacks DeMarco Murray, Allen Patrick and Chris Brown have combined for 17 rushing touchdowns. Oklahoma's 47 touchdowns rank third in the nation, behind Hawaii and Texas Tech.

4. Michigan: Mike Hart leads the nation in rushing. Chad Henne has thrown six touchdown passes and for at least 190 yards in the three games since returning from injury.

5. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys have rushed and passed for at least 200 yards in five of their seven games. They had 191 yards passing in another.

Almost basketball season

After North Carolina's loss to South Carolina, what are the Tar Heels' chances of making it to a bowl this year?

Ford in East Bay, Cal.

It's possible, although I wouldn't count on it.

At 2-5, the Tar Heels would have to win four of their final five regular-season games to gain bowl eligibility.

No doubt, North Carolina has shown improvement under coach Butch Davis[/d], with a victory over Miami and close losses to No. 11 Virginia Tech and No. 6 South Carolina in the past three weeks. But the rest of the season is no cakewalk.

The Tar Heels must play on the road against Wake Forest (4-2) and Georgia Tech (4-3) and have an imposing home game against a solid Maryland (4-2) team. Although their recent improvement indicates they could beat any of those teams, it seems unlikely for the Tar Heels to win them all.

North Carolina also has games remaining against rivals North Carolina State and Duke, and rivalry games never can be taken for granted.

Remember when ...?

Do you think Louisville can return to its original form any time soon?

Christian in Louisville

Some would say Louisville already has. Remember, it wasn't that long ago when seven victories was considered a good year.

Of course, your question is when Louisville will return to national prominence. That depends on how quickly the defense can be rebuilt. That I cannot answer.

But firing new coach Steve Kragthorpe, as some Louisville fans want, is not the answer. That would just slow the rebuilding process.

Sooner or later

Help me understand why (Oklahoma coaches) have a difficult time assessing running back DeMarco Murray. The young man has been and will be the biggest threat the Sooners have. Getting him into space should be the priority for the offense. But they keep going with the laterally challenged Allen Patrick or the slower Chris Brown. Neither have the vision or the big-play ability of Murray, yet they get the bulk of the carries.

Steve in Edmond, Okla.

I cannot speak for OU offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson or running backs coach Cale Gundy, and you have to acknowledge that they know their players' abilities better than you or I ever could.

That said, I think Murray has the scary speed and elusiveness of great Sooners running backs of the past, such as Joe Washington and Greg Pruitt. Murray would be my first choice to rush the football. Murray's electrifying 65-yard touchdown run against Texas would have settled that issue in my mind.

But coaches like to use multiple running backs to ensure fresh legs in the second half and limit the possibilities of injuries. That approach certainly isn't limited to Norman.

And don't discount Patrick's ability, either. Remember, he kept the OU running game productive after Adrian Peterson's injury last season. Also, he averages 6.1 yards per carry. Murray averages 6.3, so it's not like the Sooners suffer when Patrick is in the backfield.

Jumping to conclusions

I thought Nebraska hired Bill Callahan to get the Huskers back on track. He is only making the program look ridiculous. I am just hating to be a Huskers fan right now. We need to find a guy like Steve Spurrier who can quickly change the program.

Mike in Herndon, Va.

It will be OK, Mike. Come in off that ledge and let's talk about this.

I felt the Huskers were making steady, though surely not rapid, progress under Callahan until this season. That 41-40 escape from Ball State on Sept. 22 signaled there may be problems that someone else would need to fix. Blowout losses to Missouri and Oklahoma State then proved it.

Nebraska just fired the guy Steve Pederson who hired Callahan, so look for Callahan's exit after the regular season. The guess here is Nebraska won't qualify for a bowl, anyway.

Of course, that leads to questions about his replacement. Don't count on Spurrier, but maybe the Huskers will get LSU defensive coordinator Bo Pelini, a former Husker assistant. Maybe it will be Arkansas coach Houston Nutt, who was approached before Callahan's hiring. Or maybe the Huskers will look for another former NFL coach.

Just kidding about that last one, Mike. Don't go back out on the ledge.

Olin Buchanan is the senior national college football writer for Rivals.com. To send him a question or comment for his Friday Mailbag, click here.


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